Author: Chuck Wendig
Publisher: Angry Robot
Published: Out now
Miriam Black knows when you will die. Still in her early twenties, she’s foreseen hundreds of car crashes, heart attacks, strokes, suicides, and slow deaths by cancer. But when Miriam hitches a ride with truck driver Louis Darling and shakes his hand, she sees that in thirty days he will be gruesomely murdered while he calls her name.
Miriam has given up trying to save people – that only makes their deaths happen. No matter what she does, she can’t save Louis. But if she wants to stay alive, she’ll have to try.
First I just want to say how much I love the cover art by Joey HiFi. Not only is it stunningly beautiful, but it manages to speak volumes about the story through little details which only became apparent the closer I looked.
There’s nothing really new about the concept of Blackbirds, which features yet another twenty something female with a power she doesn’t want. However, having read Double Dead I’m aware of Wendig’s talent for breathing new life into a tired genre cliché, and he doesn’t disappoint. What really makes Blackbirds stand out from the crowd are two things: Wendig’s distinctive style of writing, and his protagonist Miriam Black.
Blackbirds is a road trip story in more ways than one. Miriam’s drifter lifestyle becomes a life on the run after she meets Louis. Her fatalistic attitude gradually changes to one of hope. A natural fighter, beaten without being broken, she tries one last time to cheat fate.
Blackbirds is relentless. It grabbed my attention by the throat from the first chapter and didn’t let go. There’s no introductory scene or exposition. Instead we’re dropped in the middle of the action which goes from 0-60 immediately and doesn’t let up until the final page.
There is some strong, brutal and sometimes downright repulsive imagery; there is a sex scene which rather than being erotic is intercut with Miriam’s vivid vision of her partner’s death; her dreams are dark and intense and it’s never quite clear if it’s her own mind or something else speaking to her; characters are described in terms which bring to mind insects or animals. It’s safe to say that Blackbirds is not for the squeamish.
My favourite thing about Blackbirds, though, is Miriam Black. We’re so often told that a female character is strong or feisty; what we’re usually shown is an effortlessly sexy wisecracking woman who occasionally gets a bit pouty about which admirer to pick. In contrast, Miriam is a breath of fresh air. She’s a streetsmart motormouth with a talent for creative cussing; she drinks, she smokes, she enjoys casual sex. She’s a drifter, carrying only her journal of the dead. Yet underneath the tough exterior and gallows humour, is a fragile, damaged and immensely likeable character struggling to live with the burden of seeing the death of everyone she touches. Flawed and so believably human, she is the antithesis of a Mary Sue.
It was only after finishing Blackbirds that I realised a couple of intriguing questions raised about Miriam’s past and her mysterious ability hadn’t been answered. The sequel Mockingbird is also available now, and I can’t wait to get my mitts on it.
If you’re looking for a fresh take on female driven urban fantasy, then Blackbirds is for you.